Review: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PS4)

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Title: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (28.9 GB)
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: T
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is exclusive to PlayStation 4. The original game is available on PlayStation 3 and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

When someone asks me to list my favorite PS3 games, Valkyria Chronicles is often one of them. Heck, I’ve even mentioned it in terms of one of my favorite games of all time. So when I heard SEGA was doing a remaster for the PS4, I was intrigued. Not only because the franchise was relatively dormant for a while, but because it was a good reason to jump back into the game and see if it stood up.

Valkyria Chronicles takes place in a world very similar to our own around the time of World War II. On the continent of Europa, a war is breaking out between the huge Empire in the east and the Federation in the west. However, caught in the middle is the small nation of Gallia.

Gallia has remained neutral in the war between the two huge factions, however their country holds huge veins of ragnite ore. This precious material is used for powering vehicles, making bombs, and it’s even used in medications. The allure of these resources lead the Empire to invade Gallia and declare war on them.

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Following a skirmish on the border that sees them losing their hometown, Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott are drafted into the militia where they end up as the commander and second in command of Squad 7. They and the rest of Squad 7 will risk their lives to protect their homeland against the huge threat that is the Empire.

The story in Valkyria Chronicles is fantastic. There’s a good blend of meaningful themes without getting too preachy, and a focus on characters without losing too much of the big picture. The story also blends in some romance and a couple good character arcs in a way that still works well in the war setting.

… the unique melding of gameplay styles …
If I had a few complaints about the story, one would be that it can occasionally get a little cheesy in that anime kind of way. Also, only the core few characters get any time in cutscenes. The rest of the squad’s members don’t get anything in the story.

The game does attempt to remedy that with a lot of world building outside the main story, including a plethora of character bios, weapon and technology pages, and even a section of in-world news articles that flesh out the parts of the war not experienced by Squad 7.

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Gameplay:
What initially drew me into the game on the PS3, aside from the art style, was the unique melding of gameplay styles. The game mixes both a turn-based tactics RPG with a third person shooter to come up with a rather unique and interesting way of playing out the war in Gallia.

The way it works is that it starts out like a tactics game. The player has an overhead view of the action where they can see the placement of their own units as well as any enemy units that are in sight range of their units. The player gets a limited number of moves, called Command Points (CP), through which they can move and attack with their units before the enemy gets a turn to move/attack.

However, when the player picks a unit to move/attack with, the game zooms down to a third person view on the battlefield. The player can then move around to a limited degree, with a bar on the bottom of the screen decreasing until that character can no longer move for that CP.

… some give and take …
That unit can also attack or use other actions once per CP. Since this is a turn-based game, both aiming and firing at enemies are controlled by percentages rather than skill. A circle on the outside of the unit’s aiming reticle shows where each bullet could hit and different character stats control the size of that circle and how likely they are to hit dead center.

This system offers some give and take. For example, a sniper aiming at a distant enemy might be able to take them down in a single head shot as compared to three body shots. However, if they aim at the enemy’s head, they might have an approximately 30% chance to hit where they could aim at the body and have nearly 100%.

There is one system which isn’t turn-based which allows unit placement to be more meaningful. This is the suppression mechanic, where certain classes of units can attack enemies that are moving within their range.

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Suppression is only used against enemies while they are moving, so the player has to be quick and careful when moving their units and has to think about where to leave those units at the end of their turn to help suppress the enemy while they are moving.

As mentioned, there are several different character classes the player can employ, each with some strengths and weaknesses. Scouts offer somewhat limited power but can move very far and have good sight range.

Shocktroopers have a ton of firepower against human units and are great at laying down suppression fire but with pretty bad move range. Lancers are an anti-tank unit with a moderate move range and their weapon is meant for taking out armored enemies.

… caught deep in enemy territory …
Engineers lack the move range of Scouts but make up for it by being able to heal tanks and perform other useful tasks. Finally, Snipers have terrible move range but have access to very long-range and powerful sniper rifles.

Welkin is also the commander of the Edelweiss, a unique tank left to him by his father, which the player can control on the battlefield. The tank is a powerful unit with a strong cannon that can take out other tanks.

It also has a mortar shot good for hitting several human enemies and a machine gun that it uses for suppression fire. However, the tank comes at a cost. It can’t move as far as Scouts or Engineers and it costs two CP to use the tank.

PRO TIP:
An unsung advantage of the tank is how it can block enemy suppression fire. Moving the tank between enemy units and yours, or the path where you intend to move your units, before moving them can give them some breathing room. This is especially important on the mission in Chapter 7.

The player/Welkin also has access to Orders, which are actions that can be used to buff ally combatants or for other one-off uses. These cost varying amounts of CP but can provide useful bonuses such as increasing all allies’ attack power or healing a unit. They can even be used to retreat a unit which has been caught deep in enemy territory.

Retreating is especially important because Valkyria Chronicles has permadeath for non story-important characters. If an ally takes lethal damage, they can be recovered by an ally and are saved if the player finishes the encounter within two turns. However if neither of those happen within two turns, that character is lost for the remainder of that playthrough.

The basic gameplay tactics are also supplemented by a few mechanics. For one, each character has a list of potentials that can activate if certain conditions are met. In some cases, these are bonuses, such as a character getting an attack boost because they’re strong under fire.

… a lot of story packed into the game …
In other cases, these can be negative too, such as a character who has lower defense when on a desert map. Secondly, characters also have favored squadmates and using them together makes it more likely for their positive potentials to activate.

The flow might be the biggest sticking point for some players as there is a lot of story packed into the game. Each chapter has six or seven ‘scenes,’ and typically only one, maybe two, of those are gameplay.

That said, each story scene is usually only a few minutes long while the gameplay encounters can easily take half an hour to an hour, plus more if the player fails and has to retry. Since I really liked the story, I didn’t mind sitting through half a dozen story scenes before the next encounter.

Between missions players can spend time upgrading their squad. Experience points are earned at the end of each mission and can be assigned to a class as a whole, for example, all Shocktroopers. Doing so unlocks new class-based potentials and sometimes gives Welkin access to more orders.

Weapons and tank parts are also researchable using money obtained after each mission. There’s not a whole lot of variation here as many of the upgrades are simply buffs.

… making each mission unique …
There are however a few branches where the player can specialize into different versions of some weapons. Each individual unit’s weapon layout can be customized with the branching weapons or with special one-off weapons obtained by defeating special enemies.

I love the combat in in the game and it turns out that it holds up well in the remake. At a base level it’s a great gameplay system and the game does a fantastic job of making each mission unique.

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Sometimes this is done by adding new elements, other times with differing mission requirements or special enemies. Plus each map in the main story is unique as well, each with varying strategies necessary to tackle them.

One thing I was afraid of was my memory was that the game was a little unbalanced. I guess my memory was a little skewed though, because the last I played of the game on PS3 was a New Game Plus with classes at max level. It turns out there is some imbalance, Scouts for example are easily the best overall class in the game, but not as bad as I remembered.

… ripe for exploits …
Sure, with my memory of where enemies would be and any surprises in the missions I managed to get pretty good ranks on each mission. However I wasn’t tossing a defense boost order on a Scout and running them straight through several enemies like I was with my upgraded classes.

I’m sure I’ll still end up doing that if I do a New Game Plus run here, but it’s nice to know that the game is well constructed for that first run with shenanigans saved for once the classes have been leveled up.

One thing that is still an issue, slightly, is that the game allows saving mid-combat. While probably essential on the consoles, where it gives a player an option when they may not have an hour to spend on a mission, it is also ripe for exploits.

The clearest of which is doing a save-reload to cheese a low-percentage-to-hit shot. Since it is obviously optional to use this method I don’t think it detracts much from my enjoyment of the game but it’s worth mentioning.

… it makes the game look like a painting …
In terms of gameplay, the PS4 version of Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t offer anything new. It does, however, include the DLC that was released for the PS3.

This includes an EX Hard mode on the skirmishes, the Edy chapter which is a chapter that finally added a little character to some of the other members of Squad 7, and the Selvaria missions which let the player play a little bit from the enemy’s side.

Visuals:
Stylized graphics always seem to age the best and Valkyria Chronicles is no exception. In fact, I’m not sure they’ve done a whole lot to ‘remaster’ it, yet the game still looks absolutely beautiful. This is because it was built on a special engine called the Canvas Engine, so called because it makes the game look like a painting.

The effect looks great and adds a distinct visual flair without being overbearing or getting in the way of the gameplay. In a way, the beautiful graphics almost seem at odds with the fact that the subject matter of the game is a war. But this feels like a stylistic choice, plus it ties into the way the story is told as the game presents it as if it were being told after the fact in a book.

When pulling up the PS3 and PS4 versions side by side, the changes seem subtle at best. The largest change is that the game now outputs natively at 1080p rather than 720. Also, textures are a little less muddy and some contrasting colors appear better. A few comparison shots are scattered across this review, just pull the slider left and right to see the differences.

… great characters and memorable moments …
Audio:
The music, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, is great. Because of the subject matter, most of the music has the tone of a military march and it fits well. The main theme especially is simultaneously uplifting and powerful but with a hauntingly touching fade out as the music fades into just marching drums.

Voices come in both English and Japanese and the main cast is well acted for both. Side characters, thanks to being relatively absent in story scenes, don’t get a whole lot of lines. Still, the victory cuts or in-game lines for each of these characters all seem good enough.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
Valkyria Chronicles isn’t a perfect game, but damn is it close in my mind. My complaints are relatively minor: side characters only really fleshed out in bios, Scouts getting a little unbalanced when leveled up, or that it is possible to cheese the save system. However these are so minor and/or optional that they don’t affect my opinion of the game in any meaningful way.

Playing the remastered version has cemented in my mind that it is easily one of the best PS3 games and now a good pickup on PS4 for those who may have missed it on PS3 or Steam. The combat is unique and interesting, offering a fun juxtaposition of two otherwise conflicting styles of gameplay.

The story hits all the right beats and has some great characters and memorable moments. If you haven’t played the game before and anything in this review sounds even remotely interesting, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is highly recommended.

Note, I’ve mostly been reviewing this game as a stand-alone without much regard for the remaster aspect of it and so the score reflects that. If you have played the game on another platform, the only new thing here is Trophy support since the PS3 version pre-dated the addition of Trophies. None of the content is new, although this version does include all of the DLC from the PS3.

Score:
10

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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